A review of the Yamaha Tyros 5 by Michael Wooldridge
I think all of us Cavalcadians are familiar with Yamaha Tyros keyboards through the ages so I am not going to go into huge details about many aspects but, suffice to say, the Tyros 5 can do virtually everything that the previous model did and does it better! Those of us familiar with the older models will be instantly at home on T5, as the layout is exactly the same, and I do mean exactly! The only visible difference is that it is now a smarter shade of silver, which is described as Titanium. Well, I say that it’s the same, but actually, there is a new and rather splendid option to have a 76-note version rather than just the 61-notes of the earlier ones.
Whilst having 76-keys is an obvious boon for pianists, I think most people would be wise to go for the larger model. Even if your preferred style of playing is to use the left hand to only play chords, you will benefit from the longer keyboard as, although perhaps it will feel slightly strange at first, you will soon adjust to playing chords lower down the keyboard and then you can add in an extra split to effectively give you three keyboards at once. If you do this, the lower portion will play the sounds set in Left, the middle section of the keyboard will have sounds Right 1 & 2 and the top section will use Right 3. Bearing in mind that each individual voice can contain big sounds, this makes this a hugely powerful feature. I have also already heard it said that the stereo effect is improved by the fact the speakers are further apart on the longer keyboard. Certainly it was very evident and satisfying when I tried the 76-note version.
On that subject, I must mention the new speakers that are available. T5 is packed with wonderful new voicing so to bring out the best of it, it is necessary to invest in the new speakers to go with it. In fact, the previous ones connected to Tyros 4 in a different way, so a change is required. What you will need is the three speaker TRS-MS05 speakers. They use new technology which is delivers greater dynamic response and, even though rated the same as the previous ones, sounds more powerful.
I think the biggest surprise is that the operating system is unchanged. Everyone had been sort of expecting that T5 would have a touch screen, as now used on some keyboards from other manufacturers and by Yamaha themselves in the top Clavinovas. The official reasoning for this is mainly that it means existing Tyros owners will be able to upgrade and instantly enjoy playing without having to learn a new system. Certainly the existing system of a main screen with buttons all around is simple and easy but I have to say my preference would be to have added in a touch screen but to also keep the buttons so that you could use whichever system you wanted to and also so owners would gradually become used to a touch screen.
Of course, touch screen or not is fairly irrelevant, as all that really matters is that there is an efficient system in place, which there is. What does matter is the sound, and what a sound it is. Tyros 4 was absolutely wonderful. Incredibly, Tyros 5 is even better. The overall sound is bigger, richer and cleaner, and I love it!
There is a brand new Expansion Manager. This is where you will now store your Expansion Packs and then load them in from here.
So, besides an improved optional speaker system and a generally better sound, perhaps the most significant improvement is that the overall sound is more real than ever before. This is for a few reasons, which combined together create a stunning effect. First of all, there are over 300 new voices, some of which are old favourites which have been improved, and all of the ones I tried were brilliant.
Next there are 539 styles, all of which are either improved or totally new. The biggest improvement comes from having Audio Styles, which have their drums recorded in the world’s best studios by some of the world’s best players. The other thing is a much improved DSP/effects section, which has first class Rotary, Chorus, Flanger, Chorus etcetera, plus most significant of all I think, a smoother, more natural Reverb, which enhances every sound.
There is a feature called Virtual Circuit Modelling (VCM), which helps to recreate the sound colour of older analogue equipment, which didn’t used to deliver the clean and crisp CD sound of modern equipment but had a real warmth to it which means many of us, myself included, hanker after it. VCM seems to really help with adding back that slightly warmer, less perfect sound, and gives the Tyros 5 a much easier on the ear and therefore even more enjoyable overall sound.
Whilst there are many improved sounds, there are two areas which deserve the most attention.The first of these, and I think the one that will be most used, is the new Organ World voice section. This gives a wide range of superb organ sounds, all very useable and useful. With quite a revival of interest in theatre organ sounds at the moment, it is great that the new Wurlitzer organ samples are wonderful. They have been sampled from one of my favourite instruments, the 3/19 Wurlitzer at The New Victoria Centre, Howden-Le-Wear, and give some fabulous combinations, really showing off the high quality of the original instrument. There are marvellous Tibia sounds, Voxes, Full Organs, all in ready to use presets but with the option for you to make your own from them.
Next I tried the Concert Organ and again it is superb, and that’s perhaps an understatement! These samples have been taken from Europe’s newest concert organ installation, the Mercator Organ in Duisberg, Germany. This time the 8 presets give a nice graduation from small flutes through to the most magnificent of cathedral tones, and again, you can mix and match to make your own sounds. If you like the European sound, the Euro Organ delivers that zingy, zesty sound of a Wersi, or for something more mellow, there is the Home Organ, which brings us the sound of a classic Lowrey Organ. Last but not least, there is the Vintage Organ, which effectively gives you a fully specified classic Hammond organ, with the sliders in front of the screen working as proper, physical drawbars.
Having tried the organ sounds, which truly are marvellous, I naturally went on to look at the more orchestral voicing. T5 is blessed with a new Ensemble section, which everyone seems very excited about indeed. Ensemble voices are designed to correct something we’ve sort of been doing wrong since time began really! One of our main aims, whether a good theatre organist or a modern style orchestral organist or keyboardist, is to paint a sound picture which convinces the listener that they are hearing an orchestra. We have become very good at this over the years but one area that can now be improved is in the voicing of our harmonies. If you think about a string orchestra for a moment, when they play there are the violins, the violas, the cellos and the double basses. To make a chord with a melody on top, each type of instrument plays different notes. Up until now, we have just had to put on Strings and every note has been played on the same sound.
Ensemble Voices correct this by playing each note on a different sound. Playing a four-note C chord with a C at each end using the Ensemble Strings, they automatically arrange into their places, so the Violin plays the top C, then you will hear the Viola playing the G, the Cello play the E and the Double Bass play the bottom C, just as it should be. Do the same thing with the Woodwind and the Flute takes top C, the Oboe the G, the Clarinet the E and the Bassoon the bottom C. This is very clever indeed and really does deliver a more real recreation.
I can see a huge advance in these sounds, just try playing Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik on the Strings to hear how much more like a real orchestra you sound. Don’t worry if you don’t play right hand chords, as the Ensemble Sounds still do their job if you play ordinary left hand chords and use the Melody On Chord feature to play the right hand chords. Richard showed me a really nice example of this using the Ensemble Sax Section to play the great Neal Hefti big band hit, Little Darling, which came out wonderfully played using single finger right hand but appearing as a fully voiced Sax section. Hand on heart, despite my personal enthusiasm for this feature, and apparently the hugely good response it has received so far on the launch tour, I am not sure how many players will use these sounds, but I guess the great thing is that they are there for those of us who want to use them.
I’ve already mentioned that there are 300+ new voices, many of which are Yamaha’s Super Articulation (SA) voices, which automatically recreate the natural playing styles of instruments as you play. The sort of thing they do is that with different touch, or using the SA buttons, they add in little slides, glides, slurs and things, advanced playing nuances that previously we couldn’t really achieve on a keyboard. The attention to detail in this area has been immense, as the instrument effects are only ones that apply to the specific instrument, they aren’t globally used effects, and they won’t do something that the individual instrument cannot or does not do. For example, did you know that whilst most guitarists will bend upwards into a melody note, on a Flamenco Guitar they also bend down into the note: Yamaha know!
Whilst we’re talking Guitars, Yamaha have been very good at these for quite a while now but here on Tyros 5 they have improved the overall sounds by yet another step. This is by going out of their way to offer the Real Distortion effects from classic guitar amplifiers of the 1960’s and 70’s, and it really does make a difference. There is a plethora of different digital models of classic analogue guitar effect pedals and amplifiers, which appear on screen so you have many of the controls of the real thing.
The effect is staggeringly good and, having spent much of this year playing in a Cliff and the Shadows tribute band (The Fabulous Shadows with the UK’s official number 1 tribute artiste, as voted by the Great British Agent’s Accusation, Jimmy Jemain as Sir Cliff Richard), I was especially thrilled with the new Shadow’s guitar sound, called “S.Art! Shadowed Guitar” which, used in conjunction with the 60s Guitar Pop style is simply wonderful. Playing some of the hits we do in the show, such as Wonderful Land, if you close your eyes you would think you are listening to the band. This is testament not only to the quality of the lead voice but also to the wonderful work that has been done to much improve the Styles, which with the Audio Styles are superb. They are wonderfully divided so as you play, especially on the 76-key T5, you really feel the lead is in the middle, the bass over on the left, the drums in the middle and so on.
I am not able to describe the many fabulous Styles here but I would give especial mention to one called Schlager Samba, which is exactly the right feel and backing for a number that the king of the keyboards, the incredible Brian Sharp, used to use in his shows back in the 80s to play a tune called Manhattan Skyline, which I think is from the film Saturday Night Fever. I still remember the excitement in Brian’s arrangement when I heard him play it back in the 80s and this fabulous style, when used with the new Euro Organ sounds, brings it all back to me now.
I am all but out of space and really we have only scratched the surface of what is on offer, as there are just so many stunning sounds and styles on here, in every style imaginable. I think the key message is that Tyros 5 really is, amazingly, yet another huge leap forwards. Who would have thought that arguably the best keyboard, the Tyros 4, could be so improved again!
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